WASHINGTON – The government is ending a program that let frequent air travelers avoid extra security patdowns in exchange for volunteering for background checks, but a private sector version will be allowed to continue, the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.
The registered traveler program began in July 2004 and was originally scheduled to last 90 days. It was so popular that the TSA extended it indefinitely. About 10,000 frequent fliers are enrolled at airports in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Washington.
TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark (search) said the program was ending this week because it had achieved its primary goal of testing the use of security threat assessments and biometric identification technology in an airport environment.
"We're going to analyze the data, analyze the results of the pilot and determine the way ahead and how RT fits into the overall security mix," she said.
The program will continue at Orlando airport, where a privately run version began in June.
One of the biggest complaints has been that registered traveler isn't of much use because travelers are limited to one airline at the airport where they registered.
The Orlando program is run by media entrepreneur Steven Brill (search), who wants to install a system of private security passes at airports across the nation. About 9,000 travelers paid $80 a year and agreed to submit to fingerprint and iris scans and to background checks. In exchange, they got a card that guarantees an exclusive security line and the promise of no random secondary pat-down.
"It's definitely a long-term situation for us," said Cindy Rosenthal, spokeswoman for Brill's company, Verified Identity Pass.
Carter Morris, senior vice president at the American Association of Airport Executives, said the TSA is focused on a private-sector approach, as is AAAE. Earlier this year, the AAAE formed a consortium of 50 airports to set technical standards and uniform rules so more than one vendor can run the registered traveler program. The ultimate goal, said Morris, is better security and shorter lines at the lowest cost.
"Airports and airlines working together can make decisions and choices, craft how registered traveler can work locally around common standards," Morris said.
People board planes 600 million times in the United States every year. Half of those trips are made by 8 million people. Speeding security checks for frequent travelers who have already been vetted would let government security officials focus their time and attention on higher risk passengers, say supporters of the registered traveler program.